Review of Misdemeanor and Felony Hit and Run Laws and Best Defenses
If you flee the scene of an accident, you can be charged with hit and run, a potentially serious offense that can result in major fines and jail time. There are two types of hit and run charges in the state of California.
Vehicle Code 20002 VC defines a misdemeanor offense and Vehicle Code 20001 VC covers a felony hit and run.
It simply doesn't matter which driver was at fault in an accident. You must stop and exchange information with the other driver.
There are some drivers that are involved in a car accident who will panic and drive away from the scene immediately.
Misdemeanor VC 20002 are the most common hit and run charges and generally described as leaving the scene of an accident without identify yourself where there are no injuries, such as a simple fender bender.
If you crash into a parked vehicle or other property, you have to make an effort to notify the owner, such as leaving a note on the damaged property.
The main factor for prosecutors on deciding what type of hit and run charges to file always depends on whether someone was injured in the accident.
As noted, California law requires you to remain at the accident scene until help arrives and the police complete an investigation.
If you've been arrested and charged with hit and run in California, the following information by our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers will help you be properly informed and prepared for what's ahead.
Overview of California Hit and Run Offenses
A hit and run crime occurs when a driver involved in an accident leaves the scene without reporting to police and providing information. Specifically, a hit-and-run involves four important elements:
- the driver was involved in an accident;
- the accident caused property damage, injury, or death to someone other than the driver;
- the driver knew they were involved in an accident—or should reasonably have known; and
- the driver willfully failed to stop, render needed assistance, and provide personal information to the police.
For prosecutors to convict you of a hit and run crime, they must establish all four of these facts beyond a reasonable doubt.
Misdemeanor Hit and Run - Vehicle Code 20002 VC
A hit and run accident can be prosecuted in California either as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances. As noted, most hit and run offenses are classified as a misdemeanor as described below:
- Vehicle Code 20002 VC—a hit and run involving only property damage but no injury. A violation of VC 20002 is always charged as a misdemeanor. If convicted, the defendant could face a fine of up to $1000 and up to 6 months in jail--plus a 2-point penalty on their driver's license.
VC 20002 defines this crime as: “A vehicle driver who was involved in an accident only causing damage to property or vehicle shall stop at nearby that won't impede traffic or jeopardize safety of other motorists.”
Vehicle Code 20002 lays out driver responsibilities after they are involved in an accident causing property damage:
- you are required to immediately stop your vehicle nearby;
- you have to provide the other party with your name and address;
- if requested, you must also provide the other party with your driver's license and car registration.
As noted, you can still be arrested for hit and run even in a situation where you were clearly not responsible for the car accident.
Put simply, if you are involved in an accident that causes any type of damage, you are legally required to stop and exchange information with any other parties who were involved.
VC 20002 requires you to stop and exchange information when under these circumstances:
- your car collides with a moving vehicle, regardless of fault;
- your car collides with a parked vehicle or other property;
- your car strikes a pedestrian, bicycle, motorcycle, etc.
The extent of damage caused by the accident is irrelevant. Put simply, any type of damage, even very minor, still requires you to stop and exchange or leave your personal identifying information.
Civil Compromise to Avoid Penalties
In some VC 20002 misdemeanor hit and run cases, you may be able to get the criminal charges dismissed as long as you accept responsibility for all the expenses of the accident.
This is called a civil compromise” and the requirements are defined under California Penal Code 1378 PC.
If you successfully meet all these requirements, then the court has the discretion to dismiss the criminal charges against you.
You will be required to compensate the injured victim for all of their damages.
Once you pay the victim in full, they can appear in court and tell the judge you paid all their expenses and ask that the charges be dismissed.
It should be noted, however, in the end, the judge has the final discretion.
Felony Hit and Run - Vehicle Code 20001 VC
This statute makes it a crime to leave the scene of a car accident when someone was injured or killed:
- Vehicle Code 20001 VC—a hit and run that causes physical injury or death to another person. VC 20001 is technically a "wobbler" offense, meaning it may be charged either as a misdemeanor or a felony. However, when any hit-and-run involves injury or death to another person, prosecutors usually charge it as a felony. If convicted of felony hit-and-run, the defendant could face fines of up to $10,000 and up to 4 years in jail.
Just like VC 20002 misdemeanor hit and run, it doesn't matter who was at fault in causing the accident.
Vehicle Code 20001 VC defines felony hit and run causing injury as “Any driver of a vehicle that was involved in an accident causing injury or death to someone shall immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident...”
Put simply, it's a felony crime flee the scene of a vehicle accident when you know there is a chance injuries occurred.
Some common examples of violations of VC 20001 include the following:
- striking a pedestrian in a crosswalk and fleeing the scene immediately;
- DUI driver becomes involved in a car accident and quickly lees the scene.
California Vehicle Code 20001 lays out specific requirements on car drivers that were involved in an accident that likely caused an injury to another person.
If you fail to follow these requirements after a car accident, the you could face felony hit and run charges. These rules state that you must:
- stop your car immediately nearby at a safe location;
- give the injured driver your name, address, and vehicle registration;
- give reasonable assistance to injured driver for medical care;
- give all relevant information to police officers at the scene.
In order for a prosecutor to convict you of VC 20001, they have to prove all the elements of the crime listed under CALCRIM 2140 California criminal jury instructions.
One of the primary factors they must prove is that you knew, or should have reasonably known, the car accident injured or killed another person.
What are the Related Offenses?
Hit and run accidents rarely occur in a vacuum. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the accident, you may be charged with other crimes in addition to the hit and run itself. Related offenses may include:
Vehicle Code 23152(a) VC driving under the influence
VC 23152(a) VC says it is a crime for someone to operate a motor vehicle while "under the influence" of alcohol. Hit and run charges often coincide with DUI because it is a possible motivation for the driver to flee the scene, not wanting to be caught with evidence of DUI.
Vehicle Code 23153 VC driving under the influence causing injury
VC 23153 defines the crime of DUI causing injury as driving under the influence and then causing a bodily injury to another person.
This is a very common related charge to hit and run as many drivers are intoxicated which is the primary reason they left the scene of an accident.
Penal Code 192(c) PC vehicular manslaughter
Vehicular manslaughter describes an accident that causes death to another person due to the driver's negligence.
If a person dies in the course of a hit-and-run and law enforcement suspects it was caused by your negligence, prosecutors may seek to add this charge.
Penal Code 191.5 PC - gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated
This is an elevated and more serious version of vehicular manslaughter and is punished more severely because DUI contributed to the victim's death.
When charged in tandem with felony hit-and-run, this charge can greatly increase the chances of serious prison time if you are convicted.
Vehicle Code 23103 VC - reckless driving
Reckless driving involves driving with wanton disregard for other people's safety. If the hit and run accident was precipitated by driving perceived as reckless, prosecutors may add this charge.
Vehicle Code 14601 - driving with a suspended license
If you were involved in the accident while driving with a suspended or revoked driver's license, prosecutors may charge you with this crime in addition to hit and run.
Vehicle Code 2800.1 VC - evading the police in a vehicle
If the police witness the accident and try to apprehend you, prosecutors may charge you with evading arrest if they believe you were trying to elude them.
Defenses Against Hit and Run Charges
A good defense attorney will evaluate the circumstances surrounding the accident and the charges against you to help determine the best defense strategy.
Some of the common defenses against misdemeanor or felony hit and run include:
- You weren't the driver. If someone else was driving and fled the scene, you could have been mistakenly identified as the driver who caused the accident. The prosecutor the burden of proof to show you were driving,
- You didn't realize a collision had occurred.If circumstances prevented you from recognizing you hit someone or something, you can't reasonably be accused of willfully fleeing the scene. Perhaps the accident was so minor, it is reasonable to argue you simply didn't know as accident occurred.
- It was unsafe to stop. If you couldn't find a safe place to pull over, or if the other driver appeared threatening, your lawyer may use these facts to try and negotiate for a lesser charge or a dismissal.
Further, through prefiling intervention, we might be able to negotiate with the prosecutor to avoid the formal filing of charges before court.
We might be able to show there was timely upfront restitution payments for medical expenses, property damage, or any other type of losses suffered by the victim.
Avoiding jail time and the most severe penalties will often depend on payment of restitution to the victim.
In felony hit and run cases, we may be able to negotiate with the District Attorney's Office to reduce the case to a misdemeanor, or even dismiss the case.
We could prepare a mitigation package that details a defendant's positive efforts in support of achieving a favorable outcome.
Every case is unique and we will need to closely review the details to determine a defense strategy.
Eisner Gorin LLP has two office locations in Los Angeles County. Call us at (310) 328-3776 for an initial consultation, or you can fill out our contact form.